Digging Around the All-But-Abandoned Astrodome

Categories: Houston 101

domeroof.jpg
Photo by Craig Hlavaty
Old and in the way, but still magic.
The Reliant Astrodome was -- is -- the Eighth Wonder of the World. Generations of Houston-area kids spent their days dreaming of playing on the field under that massive domed ceiling. It's one of our city's last non-NASA ties to the space program, this UFO-like structure in the middle of a modern commercial and medical infrastructure. And she's dark, full of dust, and ghosts of heroes past, sitting on Loop 610.

Tuesday afternoon the Reliant team allowed a handful of us reporters -- print, blog, radio, and television teams -- to view the rainbow guts of the Houston Astrodome, years dormant, now towered over by Reliant Stadium just a Warren Moon pass to Haywood Jeffires away.

Before we entered, we all signed waivers, since we would be touring a building that is not up to code. Not that it could fall upon us at any moment ("Death by Astrodome" has a fun ring to it) but certain legal precautions must be taken. There is no A/C to speak of, and only minimal lighting. We brought a flashlight and a sweat towel. This is Houston in April after all.

Walking into the Dome, you are greeted by a musty smell, and then your own memories come flooding back. The rainbow seats have a certain way of caressing your eyes. Seeing the old girl devoid of joy, used as a storage facility for random RodeoHouston gear, is a far cry from Biggio, Bagwell, and Cammie on the diamond. The seats are all covered in dust and the ground is littered with fan refuse. A peanut husk here, a receipt there.

The tour made its way to the floor of the Dome, which is where you can fully take in its size. With maybe forty voices jabbering, the silence is still eerie. Looking from where second base or a 50-yard line would be up to the pinnacle of the dome still instills awe. Someone built this. There is football turf laid out on the concrete floor of the Dome, drying out from being flooded by a recent accident in the complex.

domeseat.jpg
Photo by Brittanie Shey
Put these seats for sale!
Someone dropped a seat near one of the sidelines and it sounded like the crack of a bat, bringing me back to those afternoons spent watching batting practice before Astros games. The sound of a bat hitting a ball had a sound to it in the Dome that you don't hear at Minute Maid.

We made our way to the former Oilers and Astros locker rooms, rusted from years of dormancy. For some reason when I was young I thought that the rooms where these He-Men suited up were bigger than this.

The Astros clubhouse has been trashed by vandals, with broken glass littering the coaches offices. There are cubby holes on one wall where fan mail would go. I smiled at #11. The baseball team had a large training and sports medicine area. There was a green turf running incline, and of course, batting cages, all set off in a cave. Just a few feet away was the door to where the dugout would be now.

It's easy to forget that pro baseball and football haven't been played here in over a decade. There are still Astros and Oilers insignia throughout. The last time I would have stepped in here would have been 2002 to see Bob Dylan at RodeoHouston while Reliant was coming up next door. Old hand-painted beer ads dated back to 1999 seem quaint now. Nary a QR code in sight.

A quick trip into the press area yielded a visit into the old A/V room where all the video tech work went down. So many VHS tapes, and those big nasty ones I have not seen since college. I couldn't find Milo Hamilton's old digs, sadly.


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23 comments
postcollegiate
postcollegiate

This article brought up so many great memories of watching baseball games with my dad and sneaking out with older guys to Rodeo concerts.  SO sad to see the Dome like this.

Christina Lynn Hildebrand
Christina Lynn Hildebrand

This brings back memories of the last time I was at the dome. I was there for this KSBJ 20th anniversary concert and, I kid you not, had at least 20 acts for one concert. They had a whole lot of acts like Avalon, Nicole C. Mullen, Margaret Becker, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, etc. It was a nice place to see them. The concert itself took place sometime in July 2002.

However the only complaint I had was the long lines for food and drink. You'd think with a big event like that that they'd be prepared for such a thing but no, they decided to have the absolute minimum onstaff. 

Nevertheless it was one experience I will never forget. I was only 16 when this happened and, now that I am older, I would have loved to see some of the other acts that played there especially at the rodeo. I only started going to the rodeo when I was 18.

Bevotee
Bevotee

The people in Houston who would tear down the Dome are representative of the city's reputation as a place that destroys its landmarks, that eats its own. It's preposterous to even think of destroying the most singular and well-known piece of architecture that the state of Texas has ever known. My 7-year-old son was talking to me just this morning before school, and he asked me, "Does Houston have a really famous place?" I told him it has lots of famous places. He began describing something he had heard about, and I realized he was talking about the Astrodome. He's in first grade, living in a suburb of Denver, and the two things he knows about the city of Houston are that his grandmothers live there and that there's this once-magical place called the Astrodome there, a place that closed for business three years before he was born. It is a monument. A testimony to a time when Houston's possibilities seemed endless. Y'all need to find some way to preserve it. Period.

Jenn
Jenn

Saw some of my rodeo committee's equipment stored there, thought that was pretty interesting

Richard Neel
Richard Neel

Missy, I think turning the Astrodome into a musuem is a fabulous idea. The notion of tearing down this buiding would be similiar to tearing down the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building. This building is a testament to the engineering prowess and creative genius of the United States at the time. No less impressive or forward thinking than the coliseum in Rome. Today we are still unearthing ruins from distant cultures and celebrate them as if we discovered them. This is an outstanding mid century accomplishment that we didn't discover but actually invented. To turn our back on our modern day occupants and disrespect the achievements of the dreamers and doers of our day would be a huge mistake. Even bigger than the behemoth that took up 30% of the perfectly good parking for the Astrodome. It is ironic to me that people talk about turning into a parking structure for this reason. I also think it is ironic that the dome was aboandon because it was "outdated" and the new baseball facility was built to mimic "old school" parks. I was born in Houston two years before it opened. I went to baseball games, football games, destruction derbies, car races, motorcycle races, rodeos, concerts, OSTC conferences, tractor pulls, monster truck shows, car shows and thrill shows. I saw A.J. Foyt race midgets there, Evil Knievel jump 21 busses there. I enjoyed my dad sharing the Astrodome with me and being able to pass along the joy of sharing it with my son. Everytime I went, as a son or father, I was always taken back by how AWESOME that coplex is. I have never gotten the same feeling from just sitting in any other building. The Astrodome is not an aluminum can to be discarded, it is an architectural/engineering significant feat and a master piece that we should honor as such while we still can. 

Cindy
Cindy

keep the astrodome. do not turn it into a parking structure.  that would be a disgrace.

Mark
Mark

Thanks for the great read, Craig!  I pretty much have the same memories/dreams you did as a kid so it was nice to tour it through your words and pictures. Wish I could tour it myself.

Gaspar_Ramsey
Gaspar_Ramsey

The Press is going downhill fast. The Astrodome slideshow does not run, and the columns with Savage Love and the Advice Goddess are gone. Why not just flack for Houston's lame-o music scene full time?

Storyart
Storyart

The pied piper of Reliant Park leads the media in a well orchestratedtour of the Astrodome. Like lemmings the group scurries around commentating aboutthe superficial damage that was caused by neglect and vandalism. While thestructure is still sound rust stains and broken glass will be the memory thevoters will have before the vote is cast on saving a part of our history. Aperfect example of the hidden addenda the Texan and Rodeo organizations have inregards to saving the Dome, propagated by the media…. A sad situation…

Frank Ledwell
Frank Ledwell

I say repair the dome and make it useable again.  It, along with Reliant Stadium, Toyota Center, and the new Dynamo facility will make Houston a VERY attractive setting for a future Summer Olympic Games.

Rmrowland
Rmrowland

I disagree on one thing. The old girl needs to be put out of her misery. When it's time to go, pull the plug. If no one is going to come to the rescue, put her down.

Amanda Gillispie
Amanda Gillispie

Don't know if anyone else has this problem, but the slideshow buttons don't work for me.  I've tried on 3 browsers on 2 different computers and no dice, only that first image of the seats. :(

ETA: Working now, weird. Thanks to whoever fixed it!

Dave
Dave

It was open during the Super Bowl in Feb 2004. Hosted live country music before the game. It's the only time I was ever in the Astrodome, and it was already starting to look bad. Is that the last public event ever held there?

Big Bill
Big Bill

Honestly, it needs to go. There are historic buildings and then there are disasters waiting to happen. Tear this place down, put it to rest, create more parking and or facilities and let's move on. The Dome was the first of it's kind but it's really an eyesore and a hazard now. We'll always have our memories. It's just a tax burden now.

paul
paul

Eyesore? Sorry, that's that ugly glass beast next door to the astrodome, the one that can barely weather an average hurricane. Parking? Really? How about repair it and Use it. Its not impossible, Look at the Silver dome.

Craig Hlavaty
Craig Hlavaty

Like I was saying, I think it can used to make money for the Rodeo if it is drastically altered. I think selling the seats and the turf to fans and collectors would be a financial coup for anyone involved. 

Christina Lynn Hildebrand
Christina Lynn Hildebrand

maybe they could have more acts at the rodeo and host them there. I know for me I would like to see more acts of various genres - not just country music. The dome would be perfect for that.

Kevyoke
Kevyoke

Mmmmm, Hot Smokey. Out of the Earl Campbell,Nolan Ryan, Bum Phillips sausage fest enterprise, not one of them hasreproduced the Hot Smokey. Shame.Thanks for this.

RightShopping In
RightShopping In

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Ted Stickles
Ted Stickles

Great read, Craig. The nostalgia is killing me right now.

Missy Jane
Missy Jane

I say all the major Houston-based companies need to pool their resources and create a massive Houston museum inside the Dome. It can showcase their beginnings as well as those of NASA and the Dome itself. There would definitely be room for a beer garden in the center. ;-)

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